A team of researchers found that 11.5 percent of men in the United States were infected with oral HPV between 2011 and 20144 compared to just 3 percent of women. This translates to 11 million men and 3 million women, according to a new report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Rates of head and neck cancer caused by the human papillomavirus are increasing among men who perform oral sex on infected women, the study authors reported.

Oral HPV, HPV in United States, Head and neck cancer HPV
Men are at higher risk of developing cancer from HPV infections. Image credit: Getty Images

In fact, there are more oral cancers associated with HPV in men than there are cervical cancers in women, affirmed Eric Sturgis, professor of head and neck surgery at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas.

“The highest viral loads tend to be in the cervix,” Sturgis was quoted as saying by NBC News. “Men performing oral sex on women probably tend to get exposed to the highest amount of virus.”

The expert added that the sexually transmitted infection can be spread by deep kissing if someone has ann HPV-related oral infection. Because this virus spreads in the fluids of the mouth, throat and genital tracts, Sturgis said it is transmitted regardless of the type of oral sex. He was not part of the study.

Although 11 percent of men had oral HPV in the research conducted over a three year period, Sturgis noted that adds up to millions more over decades, leaving a significant portion of the population at risk of exposure. He said as much as 80 percent of the U.S. population would develop a genital HPV infection in their lifetime.

How does the risk of cancer increase?

People who reported 16 or more lifetime vaginal or oral sex partners were at a higher risk, according to the paper. The risk increased in men and women who smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day or used marijuana. The researchers also wrote that the odds of developing a cancer-causing strain of HPV were higher among black participants.

Nevertheless, people who are not promiscuous and are not engaged in risky sexual behavior may also catch the virus. Jason Mendelsohn, now an advocate for men with head and neck cancer, had been married and faithful for nearly two decades when he found a lump on his neck while shaving.

In most cases, people get over the HPV infection on their own, but many of those infected do not experience any symptom until decades later. The virus can remain in the body’s tissues and cause damage to the DNA, which could trigger tumor growth.

According to NBC News, his doctors have told him they believe he caught the HPV virus in college at the age of 19 and it started showing symptoms decades later. He has three kids and is now recovered after a radical tonsillectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

He encourages other parents to get their kids vaccinated to protect them from the terrible effects of HPV-related cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two vaccines, Cervarix and Gardasil, to prevent infection from HPV strains 16 and 18.

Those are most likely to cause cancer and vaccines are the only way to prevent contraction of the virus. For extra cancer protection, the FDA approved earlier this year an updated Gardasil which protects against five other high-risk HPV strains.

Source: NBC News